Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ten Thoughts for the Last Two Weeks Before School Starts

1. M-Live has an article, that says there may be a tentative agreement between the teachers and the Ann Arbor school district. I have no idea if it is true, but here is the article (along with a document that looks authentic). If you haven't already read it, take a look, and see what you think.

One thing is for sure--even if there is a contract that ends up being like the tentative agreement referenced above, I think it's going to take a bit more to mend fences between the teachers and the administration.

2. Apparently, a lot of people were unaware that Powerschool is owned by Pearson Systems. Yup. Pearson has been in our district with Powerschool since 2007 (and many, many others too)--and probably earlier with textbooks. The alternatives to Powerschool are also owned by big corporations. I guess the question is (and I don't know)--what kind of data does Pearson get to use and keep about us and our children? What kind of safeguards are there? (And starting this year, I believe grading will also be done in Powerschool.) Powerschool is a *huge* convenience--but based on my facebook feed this afternoon, parents need to be convinced that our data is safe.

3. Riding my bike past the "Pathways Campus" today, I decided I like that name, much much better than the old A2Tech name. It implies that there are multiple ways of getting to the same destination.

4. Please--as you turn your thoughts toward the school year--take my survey and offer some meaningful critiques of the Ann Arbor district's new web site. It's my impression that a lot of stuff that was on the old web site is not on the new web site, but I don't know if that's true, that is really based on some cursory searches that I have done. What do you like and what don't you like? Take the survey!

5. Want to be a guest blogger? Let me know.

6. Back to School Helpline: From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. you can call 734-660-9911

Now that helpline is truly a great idea--I have often gotten panicked questions from parents in the last few days before school. I hope it works well (in other words, I hope that they have the staffing to handle the call volume). I also hope that the people answering the phones have the correct answers at their fingertips.
At the end of Rick's Run, 2014.
I got my son to come with me! Thanks Joel!

7. Let's talk about Rick's Run! It's a fundraiser for Ann Arbor Rec & Ed scholarships, in memory of Rick DeKeon, a favorite PE teacher at Northside Elementary who was also active with Rec & Ed. I ran last year (the inaugural run) and it was at Pioneer, and it was freezing cold. OK, actually, I half ran and half walked, and it really doesn't matter, you can run or walk. It's a little bit earlier this year so it should be a little warmer (October 24th) and I'm signing up! Join me? (Maybe I should form a team...the blogspots?) You can register as a family or an individual right here, and tomorrow (Monday! August 24th) is the last day for a discount. Who's with me?!

[I went searching for the piece I wrote about Rick DeKeon and the Northside naming of the gym in his honor, and now there is a new gym being built over at Northside--so I'm wondering if the new gym will also be named after him.]

8. There is a really interesting lawsuit coming out of New York about how standardized testing can (or can't)--certainly shouldn't!--be used to evaluate teachers.

New York: Controversial teacher evaluation method is on trial--literally--and the judge is not amused

and a Slate piece on why this is a big deal.

9. Also in New York, where about 20% of students opted out of standardized tests, the New York Times reports that school districts will not lose money.

10. John Oliver takes on standardized testing!

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Comments, Please: Ann Arbor Schools New Website Debuts

It's starting--those back to school emails...those slightly shorter evenings...

Earlier this summer, the Ann Arbor schools took a big leap, and switched over to a new website. It looks different. It feels different. It's now a very manageable link:

In fact--the second part of staff emails used to be, and now it's the simple:

So, that's the good news.

School websites now have a more consistent look. And they seem to be named as: then a number OR by name (but you might have to guess at the school name--for instance, it's /aaopen and not /a2open for Ann Arbor Open).

You may have had the experience of clicking on an old link (perhaps you had bookmarked, or found via google) and that may have taken you to the main page for the Ann Arbor schools, or you may have gotten this:

To which I say: patience, grasshopper! At least this is a friendly message, and gives you a link for help.

You might be thinking that you really like some things about this web site... and/or that you are confused by other things... and/or that something from the old web site is missing that you think belongs on the web site.

You might have opinions, and knowledge, about the general web site or a specific school web site. Please, take this as your opportunity to provide comments to the school district.

Either...fill out the form below (as many times as you want, for different schools/pages) OR email John Stahly, the webmaster, directly. Email: stahlyj

Your comments can be general (for instance, "I really like the fact that the staff directory search seems to work better now") or specific ("I like that there is a new FOIA page but I can't tell if the FOIA procedures are still in draft form--which is what it states--or is now finalized"). There is an option to point out broken links.

This is a big web site! There is lots and lots of information on it. Try to be helpful, even if you have a specific critique. I will share all of these with the staff, but if you want a reply to a specific concern, it is probably best to email your concern.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

If Teaching Were A Sport...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this TeachingCenter spoof by Key and Peele...if you are a fan of ESPN's SportsCenter you will recognize a lot of themes (and if you haven't seen SportsCenter, watch it after you watch this).

This reminds me a bit of the bumper sticker quote (apparently by Robert Fulghum), "It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber."

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 2015 News and Notes

Congratulations to Two New Nonprofits!

First of all, let's give big congratulations to two important, new local groups that recently got their non-profit status.

1. The E4DS Foundation, Excellence for Dexter Schools, is focused on raising money for regular operating expenses in the Dexter school district. There is also an Educational Foundation for Dexter.

Question of the Day: Is E4DS Different than the Educational Foundation of Dexter?
Yes. E4DS is the only group whose mission involves funding normal operating expenses associated with regular programming in our schools. The Educational Foundation of Dexter (EFD) provides financial support for teacher grants for innovative and creative educational projects that cannot be funded through the school district. E4DS supports the EFD and shares some Board members between the two Foundations. It is our sincere hope that the information you learn about the limitations of available funding will also move you to contribute and support the great work of the EFD!

Find out more at or like them on Facebook.

2. The CivCity Initiative (headed by Mary Morgan, formerly of the Ann Arbor Chronicle) also got non-profit status recently. What do they do? "CivCity is working to crack the nut of civic apathy, increasing awareness of how local government works and how each of us can participate in civic life."

I am hopeful that eventually they will take on some civic initiatives related to the schools--and considering that Linh Song of the Ann Arbor Education Foundation is on the CivCity board, I think that's a real possibility!

Find out more at or like them on Facebook.

National News

The US Senate has passed a version of the Every Child Achieves Act (successor to No Child Left Behind). According to Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association, who is quoted in this piece on Diane Ravitch's blog:

“The bill continues yearly testing in grades three through eight and once in high school, but leaves it to states to determine how to use those tests for school accountability. It removes the authority of the federal government to demand that teacher evaluations be connected to student test scores and gives more authority to states to determine specific standards and curriculum. 
In giving more authority to states, the bill loosens constraints on how funds will be spent, though fortunately the Senate rejected a voucher amendment. The Senate measure now goes to a conference committee, where senators and members of the House will mesh their bills and develop a final piece of legislation. If approved, that bill will have to be signed or vetoed by President Barack Obama. If Obama vetoes it, Congress would have to override the veto for the bill to become law.
Per Madeloni,
“It is a bittersweet victory to applaud the power of school accountability going back to the states, should this bill become law. While it would allow us to organize locally and make the demands we want for our students and our schools, others have noted that it would mean we have 50 battles to fight instead of one – and that some states are especially weak in their readiness to fight.”  
And the House version [which is called the Student Success Act] is different, but it also provides a means for students who opt out to not count against the 95% rule for participation. In other words, based on federal law, parents opting out their children will not affect Title I funding (to be clear--currently this has not affected Title I funding anywhere in the country, but theoretically, it could).

Do you want the details about the differences between the two bills? This blog post, by Mercedes Schneider, does a good job of explaining the differences around testing. She's got other good stuff on her blog too!

I won't pretend to have read the bill, but at least about this piece of the bill--which gives the ability to parents to opt out--I am pretty happy.

Michigan News

We've got a new State Superintendent of Education, Brian Whiston. Read more about him in Lori Higgins' Detroit Free Press article.

The number of new charter school authorizations is going down. Maybe charter school authorizers are starting to realize they actually need to be accountable for the schools. [Hope springs eternal.]

We have yet another new state law that will negatively affect schools. According to this press release from Miller Canfield:

PA 109 of 2015 amends the Revised School Code to require any district without a positive general fund balance of at least 5% for the two most recent school fiscal years to report annually by July 7 the budgetary assumptions used when adopting its annual budget to the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI). The budgetary assumptions must include the district’s projected foundation allowance, projected membership, estimated expenditures per pupil for the immediately preceding fiscal year and the projected expenditures per pupil for the current fiscal year. Based on the report, the State Treasurer may determine if the potential for fiscal stress exists within the district.

Local News

And that new state law (PA 109) is one of the reasons why the Ann Arbor superintendent and school board have been so focused on fund balance. Here is the list of local schools (including charters) that need to report. [Most of our local charters are for-profits, and their management companies could be manipulating their fund balances to take as much as they can--maybe they'll leave a little more in the bank now.] Ann Arbor was at 4.9% fund balance this past year, and are projecting to be higher in the coming year.

Ann Arbor has a third in-district transfer/schools of choice window. This might be good news for you if (as happened to a friend of mine) your landlord decided to sell the place you are renting and you might want to not be restricted to a single school area, but you want your kids in the same school as last year...

In the past several months, Ann Arbor has now hired four principals from other local school districts--two from Plymouth-Canton (Megan Fenech for Ann Arbor Open and Karen Siegel as assistant deanat Community High School), one from Northville (Alison Epler for Bach Elementary), and one from Farmington (Jerry Morrissey for Forsythe Middle School). I wish them all good luck! [Fenech and Siegel both live in Ann Arbor.] The Community High assistant dean position was filled in April, and is a new position that is being funded because Community High is adding students, and evening classes.

Ben Edmondson
Ypsilanti Community Schools hired Ben Edmondson as their new superintendent. (He is a former Ann Arbor principal, as well as candidate for Ann Arbor superintendent.) Read his 90-day plan here. (It looks ambitious to me, but it probably needs to be.)

Summer Fun:

Are you playing the Ann Arbor summer library game? I am! If you are, I am going to give you five six! leads on ways to get some points and codes. [If you're not, it's not too late to start! Visit, there are both traditional and online versions.]

1. Visit, which is the Washtenaw Health Plan's site about health care coverage. Specifically, visit this blog post for a code, and a clue for another code.

2. Help out with Arborwiki, our local wikipedia. There's lots of work to be done, and lots of points to be gotten. And I registered and updated a page--it really was pretty easy! (On the page, it explains how to get the points.)

3. CivCity is "sponsoring" a bunch of badges. I think you have to go to meetings to get them... Go to and scroll down to CivCity.

4. Go into any local branch, walk around and look for the different codes. That's what I did today at West Branch, and here's a clue to one of the spots.

5. Read. Yup. Whatever you want. You can also get points for commenting on the books, rating them, and tagging them.
The last four books I read? (Which is probably more than I read January through April!)
1. Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman (non-fiction/memoir/genealogy search)
2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
3. Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce (young adult fantasy)--I liked some of her others' more
4. I'm in the middle of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart (kids' book, part of the Mysterious Benedict Society series)

6. Staff codes--some of the library staff have special codes they can give you. Ask them!

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Happy to See Mediation Begins

Like me, you may have gotten this press release--I'm quite happy to see it!

Ann Arbor Public Schools
Ann Arbor Education Association:

The Ann Arbor Public Schools and Ann Arbor Education Association have agreed to enter into conversations with a mediator from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission regarding the current dispute.  This was based upon the recommendation of the administrative law judge and state labor mediator. During this time, the parties have agreed to maintain confidentiality and will not be making public statements. In support of the spirit of mediation, we are requesting that the public and press and all stakeholders stand down and refrain from further comments to allow the process to proceed. We appreciate the opportunity the mediation process affords and look forward to a successful outcome.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Guest Post: This is How Our Public Schools Die

Occasionally someone volunteers to write a guest post! I think this post, by Steve Norton, the Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools (written in his capacity as a parent, but with the knowledge he brings from MIPFS), is worth your time! He calls it a "companion piece" to the parent letter that was sent to the Ann Arbor school board and teachers' union. (See this post.)

The little embedded video--all of 11 seconds long--is from the movie Independence Day--a movie I've never seen. This holiday should remind us all of our rights and responsibilities as Americans, and that's really what Steve's post is about! (And that's why I've got the text colors set up in red and blue!) --Ruth

By Steve Norton

Everyone who cares about education in our community ought to be paying attention to what is happening right now between the leaders of our school district and the union which represents Ann Arbor teachers. Not to take sides, or to point fingers, but to understand the awful consequences of policies crafted over many years by "think tanks" and lobbying groups who hold tremendous power in Lansing. What we are seeing here today was scripted long ago, by those who hold community governance of education in contempt. Should we continue to follow their script, or should we start writing our own?

As a concerned parent, I definitely want a strong and stable school district which can offer great programs, maintain reasonable class sizes, and avoid constant crises. But as an involved parent, I also know that what matters most for my children is their everyday interaction with the teachers and other professionals who educate and care for them. School is not a place where we send our children to download "facts" and memorize algorithms. A quality education helps teach our children how to think, how to ask the right questions, and how to understand those different from themselves. Together, parents and schools prepare our children to grow into thoughtful citizens and productive members of our community. That's not something which can happen without talented, committed professionals at every level, most especially in the classroom.

So what has our state done to help make this possible? More than twenty years ago, we placed the fate of our local schools largely in the hands of the state legislature, because we gave them control over the funding for our schools. Money isn't everything, but schools are dark and cold without electricity and gas, buses don't run without fuel, and programs don't exist without the people to implement them.

Since that time, districts like Ann Arbor have seen their per-pupil funding lag behind inflation nearly every year, to the point where the real spending power of our funding is  over 21% below where it was in 1995, even before retirement costs are subtracted. Overall state spending on K-12 education has stagnated over the last decade and more, and when the mandatory payments to the state retirement system are taken out, real state per-pupil spending is down 21% since 2002. Perhaps more important, the share of our state's economic product that we use to pay for education has gone steadily down over the last decade: in good times or bad, we are committing less and less of our income to support K-12 schools.

In response, local school districts have been cutting programs, laying off teachers, insisting on pay concessions from employees, and privatizing any services which can legally be contracted out. Class sizes have risen, offerings have narrowed, and teachers have not only had their pay cut but their resources slashed. The rise of high-stakes testing has pushed quality education aside for the sake of test prep. The system, and everyone it it, has been under more and more stress as the years pass by. For background on how this has played out in Ann Arbor, please see the presentation here:

Make no mistake: this was intentional. Having restricted itself to a funding bucket that was no longer adequate for our schools, our Legislature alternated between years when they pompously announced that we "need to live within our resources" and others where they patted themselves on the back for increases which were really illusions. But the consequences of these choices, and the pain, played out at the local rather than state level as school boards were forced to oversee the dismantling of their local schools.

To add fuel to the fire, our elected state officials passed laws to ensure greater conflict at the local level. Starting in 2011, the Legislature made topics which had traditionally been worked out between teachers and school boards into "prohibited subjects" that could not be subject to bargaining and instead are under the sole control of the school board. Sensitive matters to teachers, such as staffing and placement, evaluation, layoff and rehiring priority, and the minimum standards for firing, were handed to beleaguered school boards as a replacement for adequate funding. "You won't get any more funding, but you can use these as leverage to whip things into shape." Already backed into a corner, is it any wonder that school boards were willing to use those new powers?

Furthermore, faced with constant pressure for financial concessions, rising health insurance and retirement costs, and now a real threat to their working conditions, is it any wonder that many teachers and their unions chose to fight back?

But why set this in motion? Well, if you believe - as many influentials in Lansing currently do - that "government" can never to anything as well as the private sector, and that it should be as small as possible, you want "public" education to be placed into private hands. The easiest way to do this is to get families to vote with their feet, and abandon local public schools rather than try to save them. The money follows the children - all of it. After all, who wants to stay on a sinking ship?

It is not necessary to get into the details of what has happened in Ann Arbor to recognize the pattern (for more, see the Parent Letter here []). We are being forced to fight over a shrinking pie. As the pressure continues, and the fights accumulate, our local public schools will be undermined, public confidence in them eroded, and talented educators driven away. This is how our community-governed public schools will die.

When you are in the middle of the fight, it can be hard to step back and look at the big picture. But for our community, it is essential. These kinds of battles will lead nowhere good - and the people who set the stage for this struggle know that. It's time we took it to heart ourselves.

Our school leaders and educators need to set aside their legal weaponry, and quite literally beat their swords into plowshares. All the resources being used to further this standoff, the legal and organizational effort involved, would be better used to secure a settlement among stakeholders locally and to find allies across the state for political action. Those of us on the outside, parents and members of the community, have a job to do as well: we need to do what we can to plug the financial holes for now, and add our energies to the effort to force our lawmakers to do right by our children and our schools. It may seem trite to say "Fight Lansing," but if we do not, our future is clear - and it will play out just as they intended.

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Parents Ask AAPS Board, Teachers' Union to Work on Agreement, Consider Mediation or Other Alternatives

Ann Arbor parent Steve Norton and a small work group have written a letter to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board and to the Ann Arbor Education Association. It has been signed by a number of Ann Arbor parents--including me! I'm sure when you read it, you will agree with me that if more people had known about it, many more would have signed it.

*If you find yourself agreeing with the letter, but you didn't sign it, you should feel free to let the Board of Education and the AAEA (teachers' union) know how you feel! [One good way is to email them; another way is to share this on Facebook or Twitter. I'd suggest Instagram but I'm not sure it is all that photogenic...]

Steve wrote this to me in an email this morning:
This letter was the result of several weeks of work by a group of concerned AAPS parents who want to help repair the rupture between our district's leaders and our district's teachers. While the group recognizes the real financial concerns of the school board, it is very concerned that the highly confrontational strategy adopted by the Board is seriously undermining the confidence and morale of the very best teachers in our schools.
Central to the effort is an analysis of the legal situation by two attorney-parents, which shows that both sides would be better off in negotiations than waiting for an uncertain ruling by a court or administrative body. The group wants to offer the assistance of parents to help resume collaborative talks, and to remind both parties that, in the end, the schools need to serve the needs of the children and community.
The letter was delivered on 24 June to AAPS board Trustees, Superintendent Swift, AAEA President Linda Carter, and AAEA Executive Director George Przygodski. The group of signatories has received preliminary responses from a Board member and from AAEA, which give us some hope that we can help the parties resume productive discussions. We delayed publication of the letter as a courtesy to the parties, to allow them to absorb and possibly respond to our letter before it was made public. We are publishing the letter now because we believe this is a conversation which should engage the wider parent and teacher community.
Fair warning: Put some attorneys together and you won't get a short letter! It's long, and the link to the whole thing--including: a) the letter; b) the names of those who signed it; and c) the addendum (more detail)--is below.

Update July 5, 2015, a short note from Steve Norton: The workgroup which drafted the letter was convened by Steve Norton and Linh Song , and included some 20 parents and past parents who wanted to speak out on this issue. The group was assisted in understanding and assessing the current status of the contracts and the law surrounding teacher contracts by parents Vince Wellman, a law professor specializing in contract law, and Jack Panitch, an attorney in private practice with significant public sector experience.

Here is the link to the letter.

Here are a couple of excerpts.
As current school parents, we certainly value financial sustainability for our school district; annual budget crises and a decade of program cuts can and have diminished opportunities for our children, making it harder for our community to serve every child. We are very pleased with the renewed  optimism and opportunity in our school district. On the other hand, what really determines the  quality of our schools, and what means most to us as parents, is the quality, commitment and  dedication of the professionals who teach our children every day. Without their full enthusiasm, patience, and care, our school district would be nothing more than an empty shell—no matter how  stable its finances were.  
Parents are not insisting on any one solution. But we do insist that our schools’ elected officials and educators sit down and begin serious work on an agreement that, as much as possible, ensures that our teachers do not feel intimidated or disrespected while also protecting the stability of our schools  as an institution.  
We have become alarmed at the rupture that has occurred between our district’s leaders and educators. This is not mainly a disagreement over money: many teachers are feeling disrespected, hurt and betrayed. Nor are these feelings simply the product of rhetoric from a teachers’ union  engaged in a contract dispute. Recent steps by the Board of Education and district administrative leadership have done much to undermine hard-won goodwill, and we believe many of these steps are not only based on a false premise but are also profoundly unwise. 
The letter ends like this:

There is no question that our schools, as with all local public schools in Michigan, have been under tremendous financial and regulatory pressure in the last decade or more. We are determined to avoid  having a school district in constant financial peril with repeated increases in class size and cuts in  programming. 
At the same time, we as parents love and support our children’s teachers and react strongly to  anything that threatens to disrupt the countless amazing things that happen in our children’s  classrooms every day. 
Finally, we must all remember that we did not reach this point by accident. Laws, budgets and tax  policies have been crafted at the state level to foster precisely this kind of conflict. By continuing  an internal battle, we serve the interests not of our community but of those who wish to undermine community-governed public education. 
We urge you all, in the strongest possible terms, to step back from your legal maneuvering and begin  discussions about how to meet the needs of our children within the financial and legal constraints we  now face. We would be pleased to help you begin these discussions, and we encourage you to  consider some sort of mediation to foster a collaborative approach to finding solutions. 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Key Updates--And A Survey

1. Have you liked Monet Tiedeman's live blogging of the school board meetings?
Find her work again tonight (the meeting is at Huron High School, by  the way):

Bookmark it!

2. Congratulations to Scott Westerman, for getting the Ann Arbor Preschool named after him. Dr. Westerman was Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools for many years and has stayed active in the community. (Yes, even now! He's still on the AAPS Blue Ribbon Advisory Group.)

3. Regarding the rumor that TAs might be outsourced, the school district would like to put that rumor to rest. Here's a comment from David Comsa, the Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Legal Services:

There is no chance of AAPS outsourcing teaching assistants. First, the district is actively bargaining with the Paraeducator unit, which includes teaching assistants. Second, state case law considers most teaching assistants to be protected from outsourcing. 
4. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has been doing a lot of work on the needs of kids who qualify for special education services in this state.

He has had meetings around the state, and now he has got a survey going, and he's hoping for a better response.

Find the survey at

I think most parents who have kids with special education needs have been impressed by Lt. Gov. Calley's work on this issue, him out!

5. Need shots? The Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools is offering free immunizations:
Student Immunization Clinics
Walk-ins available from 9 am - 1 pm     
July 29th, 30th  &  August 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th
RAHS - Scarlett Middle School
You do not need to be a registered student at these schools to receive services. RAHS accepts insured and uninsured patients, regardless of ability to pay.
Washtenaw County Public Health staff bringing in polio vaccines.
In the 1950s. From Old News at the Ann Arbor District Library.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Support Ann Arbor Teachers Issues Call to Action

I was asked to post this Call to Action from the Support Ann Arbor Teachers group, released this morning, 6/23/2015. Here it is--read on:

(And I am doing this on my phone so I hope I did it right! The formatting might be weird...)


The Ann Arbor Public Schools are in a crisis. The board has instituted a series of destructive policies that have alienated parents and teachers. These policies run counter to the values of the Ann Arbor community:
  • ●  outsourcing and privatizing multiple departments (and eliminating many union jobs in the process)

  • ●  embracing anti-union legislation by removing bargaining provisions from the teachers contract including evaluation, hiring, firing, layoff, recall, and seniority = “the backbone of the contract”

  • ●  implementing budget cuts and pay freezes

  • ●  increasing standardized testing with no provisions for opting out

  • ●  acting in a patronizing, non-collaborative manner with educators, parents and community



    The Ann Arbor community is demanding that the AAPS Board of Education and Superintendent take the following steps immediately.

  1. 1)  Revise the agendas for Regular Meetings of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education so that the agendas place all discussion and voting on issues of high public interest between 6 and 9:30 pm.

  2. 2)  Honor the collective bargaining agreement with the AAEA that is already in place.

  3. 3)  Delay implementation of all testing measures and policies until January, 2016 so that

    administration, parents, and teachers can collaborate on a response to mandates.

  4. 4)  Commit to six public forums in the 2015-16 school year where administration, teachers, and trustees can openly discuss these issues.

Support Ann Arbor Teachers = teachers parents, students, and interested community members trying to help resolve this crisis,

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Grounds Crew Now; Teachers' Aides Next? School Board Meeting Wednesday

You might have noticed this MLive article from June 19, 2015:

Ann Arbor Schools May Privatize Grounds Crew

As noted in the article,

Ann Arbor Public Schools may privatize its grounds crew to save up to $300,000.
The district will have to lay off 13 employees if it hires four local companies to provide grass cutting, snow removal and athletic field care.
The Board of Education on Wednesday, June 17, reviewed a proposal to hire AM Service of Ann Arbor, Great Lakes Environmental Services of Whitmore Lake, JCC Design of Whitmore Lake and Superior Lawn Care & Snow Removal of Ypsilanti to do the work.
"We believe this model of using a number of contractors to deliver services to parts of the district will help meet real time needs and increase agility in keeping grounds in really good shape," said Superintendent Jeanice Swift. (Emphasis added.)
This item will be voted on at Wednesday's (June 24th) board meeting.

Side Note:

Another item on the June 24th agenda will be the "revised" Draft Policy 5060, which addresses parents who refuse to have their children take state tests.

Here is the amended policy--do you think it is better? It does not call out any particular students. But it still maintains that the tests are mandatory, and it says the board may take "any additional actions," which I think is pretty broad.

But back to my other point.

The rumor that I have heard floating around--I have not seen any written documentation (but also I haven't looked for any)--is that the district is looking into outsourcing all of the teachers' aides in the district. Presumably that would mean making it so that another company (possibly PESG, which does the substitute teachers) would hire all of the teachers' aides and supply them to the district.

UPDATED 6/24/2015--response to this rumor from David Comsa, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services: "There is no chance of AAPS outsourcing teaching assistants. First, the district is actively bargaining with the Paraeducator unit, which includes teaching assistants. Second, state case law considers most teaching assistants to be protected from outsourcing."

Notice the trend? The goal is to make it so that the number of employees the district is directly responsible for is as small as possible. There is a strong financial incentive for this--for all school district employees, the district is responsible for retirement costs (I believe the costs are above 25% of payroll, and the district is unable to control the amount they are required to pay--that is set by the state). It also gives the district a lot more flexibility.

However, there is certainly also a very troubling aspect to this as well. People lose their jobs, and there is no guarantee that they will be re-hired, or that their pay rates will be similar...even if they are, they will lose the opportunity for a state pension. It also distances the district from tough personnel decisions (after the initial layoff)--the district just tells the other company to do X with Y amount of money--if that leads to difficult working conditions or less pay for certain people--it is separated from the decisions of the district itself.

I recognize that the district, per pupil, gets about the same amount of money as we got thirteen years ago--and there-in lies the conundrum. On the other hand--although theoretically the services should not change, in reality I hear people complain all the time about the decline in custodial services, the decline in food service...I don't really know if the decline is real or imagined.

Can you imagine a time where the district outsourced the teachers? (Just. Asking. I have not heard of any plans to do so--and I do not mean to start any panic about that--but that is what some charter schools do.)

If you have feelings about any of this, you should share them with the Board of Education: (note new, shorter, email address!), ideally before the school board meeting on June 24th.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Unveiled: The MERC Unfair Labor Practices Complaints--Plus a Reception for PERA

At the end of May I wrote about the unfair labor practice complaints that the Ann Arbor Education Association was filing against the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools complaint that was being filed against the Ann Arbor Education Association. That post can be found here, and primarily addresses the process of unfair labor complaints.

And here are the complaints!

Ann Arbor Education Association (the union) complaint against the Board of Education of the Ann Arbor Public Schools

The complaint lays out a lot of detail. There are attachments that support the AAEA claim.

I'm lazy and it's in pdf form so I would have to retype stuff and...well, just go read it already!

The attorney is Jeffrey Donahue from the firm of White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, P.C.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education complaint against the Ann Arbor Education Association

The complaint lays out detail and a timeline, but it does not have a lot of attachments, unlike the other complaint.

Read this one too, it won't take too much of your time.

The attorney is Barbara Ruga from the firm of Clark Hill, but the AAPS representative signing the complaint is David Comsa, who is the legal point person/human resources point person for the school district.


And as it happens, the Public Employment Relations Act (the Act which both sides are alleging the other violated) is having its 50th anniversary this year!  So guess what is on the web site of the state's department of Licensing And Regulatory Affairs (LARA)?  An invitation to an event celebrating the Public Employment Relations Act!

Public Employment Relations Act 50th Anniversary Open House
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
1-4 PM Strolling Reception

MERC Detroit Office – Cadillac Place
3026 W. Grand Blvd, Ste. 2-750
Detroit, MI 48202
Light Snacks -- Photos and Memorabilia -- Public Welcome

RSVPs requested to 

Hey, the public is welcome! So if you want to go, you should RSVP. 

Yes, folks, that is Republican Governor George Romney signing PERA on July 23, 1965.
How times have changed, eh? Photo taken from the LARA flyer

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Live-Blogging the Ann Arbor School Board Meetings

Nope, not me.

Monet Tiedemann has started live blogging Ann Arbor school board meetings. Tonight is the first night! 

For a time, Monet Tiedemann wrote the Ann Arbor Chronicle Ann Arbor school board coverage.

Thanks Monet! Check it out--

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Please Take the M-STEP Student and Parent Surveys

The Michigan Department of Education has put out parent and student surveys on the M-Step. I understand (at least on the parent survey) there is a comment section where you can put text. Use it!

Take the survey for students by June 12, 2015.

Take the survey for parents by June 19, 2015.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Letter from an Ann Arbor Teacher: Remembering Our Agreements

I received this as an email from an AAPS high school teacher--who also happens to live in Ann Arbor--so she's a community member and voter--and parent!

Oh, and in case it's not clear--this is clearly a partisan (teacher's) point of view. Just FYI, I thought I would start out by acknowledging that. Also--I described some (not all) of this in a previous post, Confused? Just When Exactly Does the Teachers' Contract End?

From my teacher friend:

Discussions about the Ann Arbor teachers’ contract are confusing: the MOAs (memorandums of agreement), TAs (tentative agreements), durations of agreement, ratifications of agreement. It all sounds agreeable but hard to follow. As an AAPS teacher, I realize that if I’m feeling confused about these agreements, others in our community may be feeling equally—if not more--confused. I decided to go back and look at the agreements that the district and the union signed, and I’ve tried to summarize key elements here. Until 2015 the district and union’s statements and actions seemed to be consistent with the agreements. But in the spring of this year, the district started to issue statements and make decisions that seemed to ignore them. Has the district forgotten the agreements it signed? Do we need a new term: forgetting our agreements (FOA)? Since we may be experiencing this FOA, I’d like to introduce another term: remembering our agreements (ROA). Here is my attempt at ROA.
Since I don’t always trust my memory, I’ve been re-reading the documents. All of these agreements are available on the AAEA website ( and on the AAPS district website. I’ve included links to the district website throughout. Quoted language from the various documents is in bold. (I haven’t been able to open these documents on the new AAPS website at so the links are to the old website at I hope you will take my ROA as a starting point and then examine these documents for yourself.
In June 2010, the teachers agreed to loan the district money by deducting 2.2% from each teacher’s contract amount. The district agreed to pay us back using a complicated formula. This is in “AAEA June 10. 2010 Tentative Agreement” (Tentative Agreement between AAEA and AAPS For a Successor Agreement Extending the 2009-2011 Master Agreement June 14, 2010)  Basically, as revenues increase, a portion will be shared with the teachers. In the same document, the district agreed upon an expiration date for our contract tied to this sharing of revenue:
SECTION VIII. Duration of Agreement
Where ever the phrase “duration of agreement” is used it refers to June 30 of the school year in which Section II above is satisfied. That is the year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500,000 or more. That date will be known in November when the official audited report is received. Negotiations for a successor agreement should begin by March 1 of that school year per section 1.223 of the Master Agreement.
This is a clear--though complicated--formula for determining the contract’s expiration date: June 30 of the school year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500.000 or more.
The district has not paid the teachers back the money specified in 2010. In fact, we have given up more money since that loan was made. In March of 2013, at the district’s request, we voted to take a 3% pay cut. This reduction was for one year. The reality of a pay cut would make it hard for anyone to imagine that the district had paid us back or that the contract could now expire. I remember no such suggestion that either of these things had happened. This agreement is in “AAEA March 18, 2013 Tentative Agreement” (
Despite the fact that the 3% pay reduction was scheduled to end in June 2014, teachers voted to continue the pay cut (with step freezes) through the next school year, 2014 - 2015. See “AAEA June 20, 2014 Tentative Agreement.” ( We took this vote in June 2014 in response to a letter sent to us by the Board of Education, saying they would terminate our contract if we did not vote to continue the 3% cut and step freeze for the next year. The grounds for this was the clause in our contract that says:
In the event there are major (exceeding .5% of projected annual revenue) reductions in local, state or federal revenues, or an unforeseen financial crisis which adversely affects the funding of schools, the Master Agreement shall terminate at the time such changes go into effect, except as the contract is extended by mutual agreement. (from article 10.118 of the Master Agreement (
Teachers voted for the pay freeze rather than lose the protections in our contract. The district’s actions and statements certainly seemed to indicate that they thought this was a valid contract. This agreement also included the following provision: “Problem solving to meet in March 2015 to discuss finances and the impact of 10.118.” Some have suggested that is an expiration date, but I don’t see anything about the contract expiring in that line.
Recently, the district has said that our contract needs updating. In her email of May 4, 2015, the superintendent wrote: “we will need to align the teacher contract with the 2011 and 2012 Michigan school reform legislation.” It is true that, under recent Michigan laws, some of the provisions in our contract are now “prohibited subjects” in new teacher contracts. The prohibited subjects are those items that the union may no longer bargain—items such as teacher evaluations, placement, discipline, and layoffs. The laws do take away the union’s right to have a say in how these important matters are worked out. Unfortunately, that is how “right to work” works. But these laws do not require our district to get rid of the provisions, nor do they dictate how the district handles these matters. The requirement is that the union may not bring them up or have a say.
Michigan law also states that a contract containing those prohibited subjects may remain in place until that contract expires. Remember the loan we made in 2010? The district agreed that our contract would not expire until “June 30 of the school year in which Section II above is satisfied. That is the year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500,000 or 
more.” It seems to me that according to the agreement signed by the district, the contract has not expired because the district has not shared the agreed upon revenue increases with us.
One more point of confusion is the claim I’ve heard that our contract expires in June 30, 2016. This is a deadline found in “AAEA March 18, 2013 Tentative Agreement” ( It does not refer to the contract’s expiration; it refers to our Association Rights amendment that “shall continue in effect through June 30, 2016.” This has to do with how the union functions and how dues are collected--not the contract’s expiration.
I am having a hard time understanding how the district interprets any of this to mean that the contract is about to expire or that they must remove protections from the contract. How do they explain this FOA (forgetting our agreements)? One explanation the district has offered is that when we voted to take the 3% pay cut (2013) and the pay freeze (2014) to help the district through the financial crisis, we technically opened up our contract which then caused it to expire. I realize that there are many legal details here that are way beyond my pay grade, but common sense tells me that the district should not use our vote agreeing to take a pay cut and a pay freeze (both at their request) as the grounds for terminating our contract.
When I see the signature of our district representative at the bottom of these agreements, I wonder how they are making sense of their current claims. Even if they now regret those decisions, the signatures attest to their agreement. Apparently, the concessions we have made, working cooperatively with the district to get through difficult financial times, have not been good enough for the superintendent and the Board. They now seem intent on undermining our bargained agreements in order to impose an “agreement” on us.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Things I'm Reading about the State of Our State's Education

The Best Piece of the Week goes to Lindsey Smith at Michigan Radio.

Reporter’s Notebook: State needs to be more transparent about the schools it’s running is breathtaking, and at the same time damning.

Here is just a snippet:
The Emergency Loan Board is a public body. It should act like one 
Here's the thing about the Emergency Loan Board (ELB).
It has incredible power to keep schools and municipalities out of bankruptcy court. It can lend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars – repeatedly – to schools that are going broke. It even has subpoena power.
Yet there’s very little transparency.
Its three members all head state departments. Each handpicked by the governor.

ELB members (L-R) Department of Technology, Management and Budget Director David Behen; Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Mike Zimmer; and state Treasurer Nick Khouri.
 ELB members (L-R) Department of Technology, Management and Budget Director David Behen; Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Mike Zimmer; and state Treasurer Nick Khouri. CREDIT STATE OF MICHIGAN
The board has no webpage. Its meetings in Lansing are open to the public, but there is no schedule. Meetings are sporadic.
Meeting minutes aren’t available online, a common practice for public bodies. So you can’t just go somewhere to see what the board has been up to lately.
Meeting notices are sent via email. But there are no agenda or documents attached. If Michigan’s Department of Treasury doesn’t want you to find out ahead of time what it's going to approve, you won’t know.
Any decision the board makes must be unanimous, according to state law. Is that why it functions mostly as a rubber-stamp board?
The decisions the board makes are “vetted” and reviewed by Treasury staff, according to Treasury Department spokesman Terry Stanton.
Read the rest here.

Runner Up: Eclectablog's piece on some state legislators' agenda for schools.

An excellent post at Eclectablog calling out the agenda of some Republicans in our state legislature, for example Rep. Tim Kelly of Saginaw Township, who believes in "publicly-funded education," just not "publicly delivered."

Third Place: A New York Times Article, 'Opt Out' Becomes Potent Political Force.

You might not have seen this article because it is a New York Region article (and I found it courtesy of Diane Ravitch).

Key information:

At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014, according to an analysis by The New York Times.As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions. Those legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests.
The maps are really interesting to look at, they show the opt-out movement's growth over time.

Honorable Mention: From the Washington Post, Will Schools Lose Federal Funds if Kids Don't Take Mandated Tests? 

Here's how the article starts:
I’ve recently published a number of posts on the growth and impact of the standardized testing opt-out movement. As more parents choose against allowing their children to sit down for new mandated tests, the pushback from administrators is increasing in many places, with some of them threatening consequences to students who refuse to take the assessments.
Here’s a look at what is true and not true about the consequences attached to opting out from standardized testings. It was written by Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as  FairTest, a nonprofit organization that works to end the misuses of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, educators and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally sound.

And I'm re-reading: 

I've gone back to an excellent series of articles by the Detroit Free Press, on how charter schools are not held accountable.

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